Thursday, 18 November 2010

Safety first?



As happy as I am about my little clothing swap the other day (here are some of the items), for the past couple of days I have been thinking about something completely different. I am flying out to Finland on Sunday, and I can't shake the question of airport security out of my head. The talk of the town (heck, the country) is, of course, the new airport security measures adopted by TSA. You have a choice: you can have your body scanned by AIT, which essentially takes a naked picture of you, or you can subject yourself to an extensive pat-down, which includes someone touching your breasts and crotch, and in some cases, someone putting their hands down your trousers.

In theory, I am all for safety. What concerns me is that even though the scanners are not supposed to save or distribute the pictures, some 35 000 pictures of passanger scans have already been leaked online. (They do blur out your identity, but they do so with the help of a computer programme, meaning that the images can also be "un-blurred" later on.) Call me old-fashioned, but I don't like the idea of a stranger a) looking at and possibly distributing a naked picture of me, or b) touching my private bits. In the past, I have felt touchy even about having to explain to a security official why I was traveling with an essay draft and a book about Somalia. I didn't think it was any of their business to look through my intellectual property (my research, my thoughts and ideas, my dissertation). Now I feel I would prefer to sit down with someone for an hour to explain why I wanted to take my notes on the plane, rather than deal with the new safety measures that attack our bodies directly.

The whole issue of the new extensive passanger screening raises more questions than answers: aren't these measures only tackling the terrorism-related problems we have already faced in the past? What stops someone from targeting an airport check-in area? Since children and babies are not extensively screened, what stops a terrorist from implanting explosives on a child? What stops a terrorist from smuggling dangerous items inside their body? What kind of safety do these new measures really provide, and at what cost? Does it cost me something to have to describe my dissertation to a stranger? - apart from time and convenience, probably not. But does it cost me to have my naked picture taken, viewed, and potentially circulated? - in my opinion, yes. It costs me a sense of ownership when it comes to my body.

A lot of people here in the US are concerned about the extreme safety measures limiting the individual's freedom. The word freedom, especially when used by Americans, used to be the type of word I found extremely funny. It represented the obnoxious "me-first" type of American I had seen on tv. But there is a difference between freedom to (carry a gun, do whatever I like on my own property) and freedom from (persecution, prejudice). Having become more familiar with the American frame of mind (if there is such a thing) I have understood that the principle of freedom makes up a huge chunk of the nation's backbone. And whether it is the type of freedom that allows my neighbour to keep a barking guard dog outside in the cold, or the type that means I can voice my opinion and not get arrested, there is something profoundly meaningful in the right to be an individual within a society, and to rely on the state to respect my limits. Do I feel like the airport security measures take something essential away from that notion of my freedom? Absolutely. As things stand, all I am left with is the option to not travel by plane. I don't think that is freedom, really, and unlike some brave individuals who have decided to no longer fly due to the new safety rules, I am going to step on that plane on Sunday. I am still trying to decide whether to opt out from the body scan and endure the pat-down instead.

During the past day or so, I have encountered this Benjamin Franklin quote many times: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." What do you guys think?

15 comments:

Modesty is Pretty said...

I totally understand your point, a few years ago I travelled by plane and forgot to take my belt off, well bad idea, they put me in a glass thing which blew air, mean while everyone watched, then a woman scanned me with a thing and yes touching parts of my body that I felt were not necessary, all this while everyone watched and the attitude of the girl scanning was like I was already guilty of something, it was very humiliating. I'm sure glad I haven't had the need to fly again and I'm glad you told us about those pictures I had no idea...and then to think if I were even going to try to fly with my son and they had to take a picture of him and then have it leaked online, one thing is me but children? I feel bad that we have to go through this, I think there should be other measures that they could take...but then again I also think of those very smart terrorist that can be one step ahead of every mechanical thing the US can come up with to "protect" out country.

Modesty is Pretty said...

by the way I love the outfit you put together, the details on those clogs are amazing.

JRose said...

Hi...first time commenter :) I always love your monologues, they're quite entertaining and educational. As to this particular issue, I've already discussed it at length with others and I find it absolutely disgusting. The scanners are bad enough--the whole issue of the naked pictures, obviously, as well as the radiation (thousands or at least hundreds of times worse than an X-ray, and without the lead-vest protection.) It's not a lot of radiation anyway, but would certainly cause problems for frequent travellers.
But the other option is even worse. I mean, the TSA chairperson ordered them to be rough with their pat-downs. And, as you mentioned, they've been ordered reach inside the person's pants. It's molestation. And from what I heard, they do it to children as well as adults. Sick. Besides, TSA officials aren't given background checks. So we could have sex-offenders essentially fondling people--even children. Or terrorists. The entire thing is just abhorrent.

A-Dubs said...

I'm with you on this one. And thanks for putting your thoughts into words for us.

Chuck said...

I completely agree with you, Waves, and with JRose. I'm sure that terrorist sympathizers everywhere are chuckling at this. By allowing this to become the norm we give them a little victory by terrorizing our own people on their behalf. It's shameful. Does the deterrent effect of this really outweigh the loss of the basic right of innocent citizens to not be abused by their government? Determined terrorists are resourceful enough to find a way around this--to me it's just not worth putting everyone through this for the one in a million terrorist. There seems to be significant opposition to this from all political directions--it's one of the few things that members of both parties agree on--which gives me hope that it will be overturned at some point. I've also heard talk of another type of scanning technology that is less invasive and less harmful, so that may mitigate this eventually. Unfortunately none of this is going to happen before you fly to Finland, and I feel bad (almost apologetic on behalf of my country) that you have to think about it. If I had to choose I'd go with the scan over the pat-down. I know that some scans have leaked, but the odds are against it, and I'd rather have a TSA worker see my scan as just one of a thousand anonymous bodies than having some surly officer enforcing his "authority" over me with his hands.

Helena said...

No way I would go through this scanner! It is too much!

a cat of impossible colour said...

This troubles me too.

summertime dreams said...

I don't like it one bit, and I know that next time I fly to Europe, I will not be transferring planes anywhere in the USA. Sad really. That this has become the determining factor. Here's a link to an interesting article...

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/744199---israelification-high-security-little-bother

Good luck with your decision. It upsets me that you even have to make it.

Franca said...

Seriously?? I hadn't heard of this! In what way is this acceptable? I'm flying to New York in spring, maybe I should fly to Canada instead and drive across. I find this whole security mania quite disturbing, it's like we're just handing our rights away faster and faster. What has prompted these new scanners anyway?

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with you, Waves. I rarely leave Europe and I adore travelling by train, so my first transatlantic flight caught me at the age of 22- late, isn't it?- I had to go through London Heathrow security system and felt like during this checking I was deprived of my human dignity. They made me take off my coat, jacket, loose shirt (winter time, hence the heavy clothing), shoes and socks which seemed to them too loose. Then they All in front of roughly a few hundred people. All this left a very bitter feeling towards security systems.
Still, the funny bit here is that on my way back to Europe, I had a bottle of mineral water in my hand luggage. Completely forgot to take it out and only remembered about it already on board, when I opened my bag. It went through security unnoticed. Nobody saw it, or nobody cared, despite that you're prohibited to take on fany fluids on board...
The security system is leaky and real terrorists surely laugh out loud, hearing about it. It only makes us, normal citizens, feel ashamed and insecure, like Modesty above said, as if we were already guilty. Will the tightened security measures stop anything? Apart from, obviously, stopping me from taking a plane anywhere.
Katya

PS. This guy spoke my mind about it: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2004-01-14/

Milla said...

Thoughtful post as always, Waves. I agree with you on all ponts and would like to add to the arguments against tightened airport security, that having recently traveled back to the U.S from Europe, I don't much see the point of having measures here, that aren't in place in countries hundreds of thousands of people fly INTO the States from.

I flew back from Finland via Iceland and both airports being relatively small, the security is, of course, relatively lax. They, for instance, don't have in place the previous genius American method of airport security: the taking your shoes off for safety. Something the U.S implemented AFTER someone tried to blow up a plane with some tennis shoe explosive.

If any of these measures actually increased airport security, that'd be another matter, but as is the case with the shoe-safety, it is unlikely that a terrorist will try something they know could be easily detected by security. This does not mean they won't try something else. Where there's a will etc...etc...

If I had to choose (and the next time I fly I surely will have to) I'd take the pat down. I've a pretty serious one before due to some unfortunately placed metal hardware and I didn't think it was that bad. I'm sure they don't exactly linger over each area. I will add that the procedure is probably awkward for the person performing it as well. Not necessarily what they signed up for when they took the job, I'm sure.

Anywhoo, have a safe journey and do report back on your thoughts.

Eyeliah said...

It's such a touchy subject pun not intended. I appreciate your open candor on it. I limit my plane travel.

Milla said...

I know you've probably already flown, but check this out.
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/10/for-the-first-time-the-tsa-meets-resistance/65390/

http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/11/tsa-john-tyner-sane-airport-security-system

if and when faced with this choice I will definitely choose the pat-down, just because they don't want you to.

Becky said...

I travel often for business and will be heading to San Francisco soon. My solution if given the choice will be to opt for the pat-down and here's why: at least I have SOME measure of control over what happens. It's true that I can't stop them from touching me, but I can at least be assured that photos of my naked self won't be leaked. My privacy will be violated for one moment and then it will be over. In addition, those body scanners possibly cause long-term side affects that we don't know about. Finally, I HATE the idea of body scanners, and their "opt-out" measures are meant to embarrass everyone so much that they'll choose the scanners. I'm not going to let them humiliate me like that - they're essentially bullying us into machines that could cause cancer or other horrible side-effects.

The best solution is to opt-out and then file a complaint every single time: http://www.tsa.gov/research/civilrights/civilrights_travelers.shtm

Maybe if enough of us opt-out and complain, they'll realize that it's not working and they'll stop. Probably not, but at least we'd be doing SOMETHING, instead of sitting by and letting it happen to us.

whatiwore said...

Very thoughtful post! As I'm traveling for Thanksgiving, I've been pondering the new security standards as well. In a nutshell, I agree that they're invasive. My biggest concern is that the images could potentially be saved--I know that they're saying that the computers don't have the ability to save the images, but I can't help but think that they could be manipulated to do so. Moreover, I saw a news item that interviewed a man who had a colostomy bag who had chosen the full body pat down--they manipulated the colostomy bag so much that he was left covered in his own urine and thoroughly humiliated. Really sad.

Also, I don't have any point to make here, but that's an excellent use of the Ben Franklin quote.